Nepali Police in Kathmandu on February 07, 2021.
© 2021 Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via AP
On June 6, police in Nepal killed an 18-year-old woman when they opened fire on protesters using tear gas and live ammunition. Villagers in Bardiya district had blocked a highway to demand the government do more to protect them from wild animals from a nearby national park, media reports said. It is the latest instance of police using excessive and lethal force against demonstrators.
The woman killed in the latest shooting, Nabina Tharu, was a member of a marginalized ethnic community in Nepal’s Terai region. Following the incident, Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand told parliament that officials were meant to “resolve the dispute[s] … using the least amount of force. There was no order to shoot.”
As in previous cases, the government responded by appointing a committee to investigate the incident. However, the committee, comprised of police and officials from the Department of National Parks, lacks independence. Nepali authorities have previously used such committees to deflect allegations, and failed to hold police to account for the use of excessive force against protesters and for other abuses, even after the country’s human rights commission has found them responsible.
The protest began after a tiger attacked a local woman who was collecting firewood. Since 2019, media reports say tigers have killed nine people and wounded several others in the area, which is adjacent to a wildlife corridor.
While Nepal’s national parks are frequently hailed as a conservation success story, the Department of National Parks has also displaced indigenous people. Park wardens have draconian powers to arrest people without a warrant on suspicion of violating conservation laws. Wardens and soldiers guarding the parks, have been accused of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and killing people from neighboring communities. National Park authorities also frequently fail to adequately protect or compensate people living nearby from loss and damage caused by wild animals.
Instead of forming yet another committee, Nepali officials should credibly investigate security officials and prosecute them where there is clear evidence of abuse. And Nepal’s national park authorities need to end their abusive practices and work in partnership with local people to promote conservation while upholding their rights.